An Airbus A320, operated by Germanwings, was travelling to Dusseldorf from Barcelona when it descended into the French Alps, killing the 144 passengers and six crew members on board on Tuesday. The chief Marseille prosecutor handling the investigation of the crash of a Germanwings jetliner said on Thursday that evidence from the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the co-pilot had deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and steered the plane into its fatal descent.
“At this moment, in light of investigation, the interpretation we can give at this time is that the co-pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander, and activated the button that commands the loss of altitude,” the prosecutor, Brice Robin, said. He added it appeared that the intention of the co-pilot, identified as Andreas Lubitz, had been “to destroy the aircraft.” He said that the voice recorder showed that the co-pilot had been breathing until before the moment of impact, suggesting that he was conscious and deliberate in bringing the plane down and killing 144 passengers and five other crew members in the French Alps on Tuesday. The revelation that one of the pilots of the jetliner was locked out of the cockpit before it crashed, which was first reported in the New York Times, raised new and troubling questions on Thursday.
The French prosecutor said that the authorities had a full transcript of the final 30 minutes of the voice recorder (pictured above). “During the first 20 minutes, the pilots talk normally,” Mr. Robin said, saying they spoke in a “cheerful” and “courteous” way. “There is nothing abnormal happening,” he said. The prosecutor said the transcript showed that the captain was preparing a briefing for landing in Düsseldorf. The co-pilot’s answer, the prosecutor said, was “laconic.” The commanding pilot then asks the co-pilot to take over, and the noise of a seat backing up and a door closing can be heard as the Captain left to visit the toilet.
Earlier, the New York Times quoted a senior military official as saying one of the two pilots left the cockpit and could not get back in. He said: "The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down." The investigator, who has not been named, said many questions remain unanswered on the reasons why one of the pilots went out. "But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door," he said.
The Marseille prosecutor has said that the co-pilot of the Germanwings flight, Andreas Lubitz (pictured below) may have crashed the plane deliberately. He was from Montabaur, in Rhineland-Palatinate. He had 630 flight hours. He joined Germanwings in September 2013 straight from the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen. A mother of a schoolmate told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he had told her daughter he had taken a break from his pilot training because he was suffering from depression.
“We are horrified that something of this nature could have been taken place,” said Carsten Spohr, the chief executive of Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, and a former A320 pilot, at a news conference in Cologne, Germany, later Thursday. “It is the worst nightmare that anyone can have in our company.” He said Lufthansa staff received psychological and flight training. Mr. Spohr said there was an interruption in Mr. Lubitz’s training that lasted “a few months,” but that he did not know why or whether it was related to a medical issue. When Mr. Spohr was asked whether the co-pilot had committed suicide, he replied. “I am not a legal expert.” He then added, “But when one person is responsible for 150 lives, it is more than suicide.”
According to an Airbus video describing the operations of locking the cockpit door, it is locked by default when closed. But when a pilot wants to lock the cockpit door to bar access to someone outside, he or she can move the toggle to a position marked “locked,” which illuminates a red light on a numeric code pad outside. That disables the door, keypad and the door buzzer for five minutes. Mr Spohr said that in the US there is a rule that a steward remains in the cockpit when a pilot leaves, but that this is not the case in Europe and that he does not think it is necessary to change the procedures, despite the tragedy.
Germanwings said 72 Germans were killed in the first major air passenger disaster on French soil since the 2000 Concorde accident just outside Paris. Madrid revised down on Thursday the number of Spanish victims to 50 from 51 previously. As well as Germans and Spaniards, victims included three Americans, a Moroccan and citizens of Britain, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Israel, Japan,Mexico, Iran and the Netherlands, officials said. However, DNA checks to identify them could take weeks, the French government said.
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